Sunday, March 22, 2015

BROOKSIDE, ALABAMA: AN EARLY RUSYN OUTPOST

by John Schweich

When they arrived in the United States in the late 19th Century, Capatho–Rusyns and Slovaks had much in common: they often hailed from the same or neighboring villages in what was then Upper Hungary, spoke mutually intelligible Slavic dialects, and came from largely agrarian occupational backgrounds.  The great majority found work in the steel mills, coalmines and manufacturing plants of the Northeast.  (1)  
For those of who came from the village of Slovinky (in Spišská nova Ves in present-day eastern Slovakia), many were able to find employment in a field that was very familiar to them: mining.  Slovinky had an extensive network of silver, copper and iron ore mines dating from the 1700s.  By the 19th Century, only iron ore was being actively extracted. The Greek Catholic parish of St. George dates from 1680 and according to the Slovak census of 2001, the village had a population of 1,867, with the following religious composition:  807 Orthodox, 490 Greek Catholics, 429 Roman Catholics and 6 Lutherans.   (2)

Not surprisingly, many newcomers from Slovinky quickly found work in the bituminous coal field of Southern Ohio, settling in Pleasant City, Trail Run and Byesville Ohio.  (3) In the case of another group of former Slovinky miners, it can be said that work found them and in the process created the oldest and most improbable Slavic immigrant community in the Deep South, Brookside in north central Alabama near Birmingham.   

In 1887 The Sloss Iron and Steel Company purchased mine acreage to supply coke to the blast furnaces of the expanding steel mills of Birmingham. Because locals were reluctant to accept mining positions, a decision was made to recruit Slovaks; among first arrivals was John Bensko, subsequently, first Slovak Mayor of Brookside (4) 

Although articles about the community often describe the early Slavic settlers there as “Slovaks,” it is clear that the arrivals consisted of both Slovaks and Carpatho-Rusyns. The new arrivals reflected the religious preferences of their home village:  An Orthodox Church was founded in 1894; a Slovak Roman Catholic Church, SS. Cyril and Methodius’ was established in 1895.  The later church ran a parochial school that was open to all, regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds.  The school closed in the 1930s.  Some of the pioneering members of the parish were Joseph and Matthew Slovensky; Louis Perunko; John and Alexander Slovensky (cousins of Joseph and Matthew Slovensky); Joseph Bakosh; Mike Pator; John Mikolay; John Sikora; Peter Patchen; Mike Perish; the Duchock brothers, John, Joseph and Kiser.

SS. Cyril and Methodius’ Church was served by priests of the Benedictine Order.  Land for the church was purchased from Joseph and Mary Slovensky.   The first resident pastor was Robert Reitmeier, a Slovak speaker. At the time of it founding, the majority of the Brookside’s population (800 families) were Roman Catholics.  The first marriage recorded was that of Mary Perunko and Joseph Slovensky in June 1896.  The first baptism was that of
Valentine Billetz, son of Mrs. and Mrs. Joseph Billetz A school was established and staffed by Benedictine nuns.  During its first year it had 182 students.  The parish numbered among its members small number of Italians, Germans and French.  In 1906, according to the history of a neighboring parish, some of the congregation left to organize a Greek Catholic Church; unable to secure a priest, they obtained the services of an Orthodox priest.  That departure coupled with the strikes of 1908 and 1920 had the eventual effect of causing the congregation to dwindle over the years.  By 1935, the parish consisted of 30 families. In 1936, the school was closed. In 1954, after a period of physical decline, the church was torn down. A new church was constructed in 1955 and dedicated to St. Michael. The Cemetery on “Tiger Hill,” which dates from 1901 served Catholics and Orthodox; the climb was so steep that pall pallbearers had to work shifts transporting coffins up the hill. (5)

The oldest fraternal organization among Carpatho-Rusyns was the Greek Catholic Union (GCU), founded in Wilkes-Barre PA in 1892.  It saw itself as the protector of the spiritual and ethnic heritage of Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholics.  It provided death benefits to its members, whose hazardous occupations made them uninsurable by mainstream insurance companies. The GCU’s newspaper, the Amerikansky Russky Viestnik (ARV), was an influential source of information and opinion.  The ARV was published in two editions:  One, called the "Russian" version, written in Cyrillic (featuring a mixture of Russian and Rusyn dialect) and the "Slavish" edition (in an east Slovak dialect, using the Latin alphabet).  The ARV published several articles dealing with the Rusyn community in Brookside.

One (March 5, 1907) was written by President of GCU Lodge 187, John Skurka.  Skurka reported that the local lodge, consisting of Rusyns and Slovaks, was flourishing and had 79 members.  The other lodge officers were John Slovensky, Mike Pastor, and Andro Hric.  Each of the lodge members had pledged to donate $25-$30 to purchase a lot for the church which was not yet built.  The local coal company had donated a lot but it was insufficient to support a church building.  The workers were earning $2.50-3.00 a day working in the mines.  The miners had recently been on strike for 27 months but the walkout had failed to achieve its demands.  The workers were being paid 57- 62.5 cents a ton of coal.  (6) 

Still another ARV article, (August 27, 1907) written by Ando Varholik, Lodge Treasurer, requested donations for the construction of a church.  The other lodge officers at that point were Peter Bencko (President), Michael Baratka (Recording Secretary) and John Slovensky (Financial Secretary). (7)

At some point, Brookside’s Greek Catholics began to be served by Orthodox priests. (8)  
That posed a problem for the GCU, which required that its members be Catholics in good standing to remain members.
Another ARV article, dated 29 April 1909 contained a warning from John Uhrin, President of the GCU, quoting the society's Statute #65, i.e. that GCU members of who became Orthodox would lose their membership. The warning specifically cited Lodge 187 of Brookside AL. (9)

Joseph Slovensky had written another article in the May 25, 1911 ARV reporting a liturgy held at SS. Cyril and Methodius Slovak Roman Catholic Church in Brookside on May 3, 1911.  The celebrant was Fr. Michael Jackovič, the Spiritual advisor of he GCU from Scranton. In his sermon, he warned
that members of Lodge 187 who had embraced Orthodoxy, would be expelled from the organization unless they returned to Catholicism.  Slovensky reported that many "schismatics" (i.e., Orthodox) attended he service, heard the sermon and returned to the Catholic Church.  (10) 

Over time, the connections between the Brookside Slavs and their confreres from Slovinky in Southeastern Ohio took on a new dimension. Many of the miners in Pleasant City and neighboring Trail Run OH were, like their counterparts in Brookside, natives of Slovinky village.  Those old country village ties persisted and a network developed, allowing each to respond to the need for miners in both communities. After a particularly painful strike in Brookside, many of the miners relocated to Ohio, in search of stable employment opportunities. The Brookside arrivals also brought with them their newly adopted Orthodox faith which posed conflicts in the Trail Run's St. Michael's Church, originally founded by Greek Catholics but now served by Fr. A. Solyanka, an Orthodox priest who previously resided in Brookside. The ownership of the church was decided in the courts, which ruled that St. Michael's was an Orthodox church.  (Fr. Solyanka is mentioned in the St. Nicholas’ centennial history as having served in Brookside in 1911.  (11) 

On January 31, 1977 Steven F, Slovensky was interviewed as part of the University of Alabama Oral History Project.  Slovensky was born in Brookside in 1897 and remained there until 1920.  He was the nephew of Joseph Slovensky who was a member of the local GCU Lodge. His father was born in Slovinky and lived for a time in Pennsylvania before relocating to Brookside.  Slavic immigration to Brookside was at its height from the mid-1890s to 1908.
His parents were married in SS. Cyril and Methodius’ Slovak RC Church in Brookside, the first wedding performed in the church.  He advised that at the time he left the town for employment opportunities elsewhere, the average family earned about $25.00.  Neighboring towns included Pinckney, Daisy City, Cardiff, Gin Town and Blossburg. Most of the “Slovaks”, as he called them, resided in Brookside. The congregation of SS. Cyril and Methodius’ numbered 200-300. 

A major source of recreation was baseball; Fred E. "Dixie" Walker (1910 – 1982) who subsequently played for the New York Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers played in the local "Miners League," of which Brookside was a member. (12)

The conversion of the Brookside community to Orthodoxy, along with 19 other parishes, was cited in an August 31, 1911 letter to the Pope from 42 Greek Catholic priests as a result of the poor leadership of the Greek Catholic Bishop, at the time, Soter Ortynsky. During his tenure (1907-1916) Ortynsky was opposed by pro-Hungarian and anti-Ukrainian elements of the clergy. (13)


St Nicholas’ Russian Orthodox Church remains the only spiritual vestige of Brookside’s Slavic beginnings.  Because of a fire there is no record of baptisms and priests assigned prior to 1911. The original church dedicated to St. George, was destroyed by a tornado.  A second church was named Protection of the Mother of God burned down.  The current structure, named in honor of St. Nicholas, constructed in 1916, was renovated in 1965.  Brookside immigrants maintained contacts with their counterparts around Pleasant City Ohio who also traced to their origins to Slovinky.   During the 1930s and '40s,mining activity gradually ceased in Brookside and most of the original Slavs moved away permanently. Fr. Benedict Tallant, the current pastor of St. Nicholas’, is 87 years old, is of Irish descent and a convert to Orthodoxy. He was ordained in 1962 by Bishop Dositheus of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate).  He was assigned to St. Nicholas' in Brookside in that year, assisting Archpriest Eugene Brown of the Russian Metropolia (today’s Orthodox Church in America).  In 1965, Fr. Benedict became pastor and petitioned that the church be admitted into the Russian Patriarchal jurisdiction.  At that point the membership was in excess of 100 people and is currently slightly less so. The average attendance at Sunday Liturgy is about 35.  In the early years of his pastorate, Fr. Benedict transitioned the parish from the exclusive use of Church Slavonic, reducing it to once a month and currently all the services are conducted in English.  Over time, the choir replaced congregational singing. Fully half of the current membership is composed of converts.  Several ethnic Russians from the nearby University of Alabama at Birmingham are members. The church’s Sisterhood of St. Olga continues to host “Annual Russian/Slavic Food Festival,” during the first weekend of November, which attracts visitors from as far away as Virginia. (14) 

Footnotes:
1 - Paul R. Magocsi, Our People: Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Descendants in North America, pp.15-20; M. Mark Solarik, “Slovaks,” Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, pp. 927-934)

2 - Paul R. Magocsi, Carpatho Rusyn Settlement Map; http://www.slovinky.estranky.cz/clanky/historia/historia-farnosti.html

3 -  Lorle  E. Porter, The Immigrant Cocoon: Central Europeans in the Cambridge Ohio Coalfield, pp. 257-261.

4 - Interview with Elizabeth Beck, September 8, 2014)

5 - http://www.saintpatrickcc.com/?PN=Pages&SubP=Level1Page&L=1&DivisionID=501&PageID=1148&ToggleSideNav=ShowAll

6 - ARV, March 5, 1907, p.2

7 - ARV, August 27, 1907, p. 2


8 - Our First Hundred Years 1894-1994, St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Brookside Alabama

9 - "Ot hl. Predsidelja Sojedinenija Greko-Kat. Russkych Bratsv" (“From the President of the Greek Ctaholic Union”) ARV, April 29, 1909 p. 2

10 - ARV, May 25, 1911, p. 2

11- Porter, pp. 257-161

12 - http://oh.mhsl.uab.edu/sts/

13 - Slivka, John, Historical Mirror: Sources of the Rusin and Hungarian Greek Rite Catholics in the United States of America 1884-1963, pp.  89-93)

14 - Interview with Fr. Benedict Tallant, Pastor, St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, August 16, 2014.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

SUMMER SCHOOL FOR RUSYN LANGUAGE AND CULTURE





Small group of Studium participants, 2014, in front of St. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Church
The Studium Carpato-Ruthenorum announces its sixth annual International Summer School for Rusyn Language and Culture: Sunday, June 7-Saturday, June 27!

After a successful session in June 2014, the Studium will again be hosted this coming June 2015 in Prešov, sponsored by the Institute for Rusyn Language and Culture at Prešov University. Many of the details around the three-week session are the same as described in texts located here at this blog and posted last year—with a few changes.

A folk ensemble at the Svidnik Folk Festival
The Studium will continue to provide parallel lectures in history in English by Professor Paul Robert Magocsi, reknown scholar of Carpatho-Rusyn Studies from the University of Toronto, and in Rusyn by Valerii Padiak from Uzhhorod, who is an instructor in the Institute for Rusyn Language and Culture at Prešov University. The Prešov-Region Rusyn language is taught at its higher level by Kveta Koporova, linguist and faculty member at Prešov University.

Enjoying scrumptious langoshi
A major new element: Marek Gaj, a young man who teaches Rusyn in the public schools in the Prešov Region, joined the Studium faculty last summer for the first time and will return to again work with the beginning language students. I assisted him in his teaching, helping with some translation, and also learning from him. He is a friendly and energetic guy with a good sense of humor, and brings with him a special love of Rusyn folksongs. After the first week, every class session ended with us learning new songs and repeating old ones with Marek playing a synthesizer keyboard. Marek introduced to our American participants the Cyrillic alphabet, some very basic grammar, and a raft of simple words and phrases, so that by the end of the three-week session we were all managing to introduce ourselves comfortably and to communicate lots of information about ourselves and our families, etc. No Slavic language can be mastered in three weeks, but our participants got a feel for the language and left with some basic conversational skills.

A new and wonderful element this summer: Professor Elena Boudovskaia, Russian-language faculty at Georgetown University, will be working along with Marek to aid in the teaching of Rusyn and will also provide lectures in Carpatho-Rusyn folklore and folk life in English. Just this fall, Elena gave a talk to the New Jersey Chapter of the C-RS on the practices and beliefs of Carpatho-Rusyns in small villages in Transcarpathia where she has done extensive linguistic research. She also has experience teaching folklore, and is weaving her interests together to offer participants a truly fascinating journey into Carpatho-Rusyn culture today as it still retains vestiges of a distant past.
Loom weaving at the Rusyn Museum, Presov
Among the excursions planned will be a repeat visit to Prešov University Emeritus Professor Mykola Mushynka’s native village of Kurov  where in the past couple of summer sessions Studium participants were greeted warmly with performances by the Kurov Folk Ensemble and fabulous Rusyn food and drink. Last summer, our American participants were embraced by the Kurov young folks, danced and sang with them—and it was very difficult to part at the end of the evening!

An excursion to a number of historical Carpathian wooden churches is on the docket, as is a day trip to Krynica, Poland and a visit with famous Lemko-Rusyn poet Petro Trokhanovskij who will give a tour of the museum and monument dedicated to Nikifor Drovn’ak, the unique Lemko-Rusyn artist whose work is a stellar example of “Naïve” or “Primitive” Art and “Outsider Art.”

Bronze sculpture of Andy Warhol, Medzilaborce

Back in Prešov, food in the cafeteria at the university continues to improve. Last summer, we enjoyed delicious dinner salads every evening, if we chose that option, and the soups at lunch are always superb. Breakfasts are nutritious, as well, with delicious yogurts, granola cereals, cheese and ham, fresh bread and rolls, and hot coffee. Ice cream from the little shop “Croatia” on Florianova Street in Old Town Prešov, a leisurely 15-minute walk from the dorm, is probably the best in the world (I think I raved about this in last year’s blog text…), and Studium participants once again thoroughly enjoyed dropping across the street from the dorm into the cozy Ballada, a coffee shop run by Carpatho-Rusyns and providing your favorite teas and coffee drinks, as well as beer and wine, to warm the heart and to make you feel completely at home.

Perhaps there is something to be said for tours which take you from place to place in the course of a week or ten days, but there is nothing quite like remaining in one central location (with excursions, of course) and immersing in a genuine learning experience. You will come away with a new appreciation for the land of your grandparents and great-grandparents, as well as with new friends and an open invitation to return again. In addition, every year of experience seems to enhance the Studium’s operations, making it the best deal possible for those who wish to spend that longer time immersed in learning about Carpatho-Rusyn history and culture in its native environment rather than simply passing through as a tourist.

Prof. Mushynka with Studium participants
College students are especially warmly invited as you will mix with students from Prešov University and Transcarpathia who are involved in the Rusyn Institute. If you wish, the Institute will provide you with a document stating the number of hours of history, language study, and folklore/cultural studies you had. As with a number of other study abroad programs, you may then take this document to your home college or university, and your institution will decide on the number of semester or quarter-hour credits you will be awarded. Credit amount depends not on Prešov University, but on your home institution. Just know that it is possible to get credits, if you wish. If you want to do this, please inform the organizers when you arrive to the Studium.

Poster outside the Institute of Rusyn Language & Culture
The application and information about this year’s Studium is posted at the Carpatho-Rusyn Society website. While the official deadline for sending in the simple online application is March 1, 2015, that date is somewhat flexible. If you need a couple extra weeks to make plans, please let me know. I’m sure that that will be fine. You can contact me, Pat Krafcik (in Olympia, Washington state), at patkrafcik@gmail.com with any questions you might have. I’m happy to talk with you and/or to put you in contact with alumni from the past couple of sessions. Please note that although the official information sheet says that payment (initial down payment and remainder) may be paid by bank check, I just now heard from the organizers that applicants should follow the instructions on the information sheet to conduct a bank transfer instead.

Maybe this is your year to give the Studium a try!
Delicious spread at the final banquet and certificate ceremony for the Studium 2014

Saturday, December 27, 2014

RUSYN CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS IN ST. CLAIR, PENNSYLVANIA


   Guba Christmas Traditions
By Garrett Gelting 

Jaslickare - St. Clair, Pennsylvania
It’s hard to believe that when I was young and “the Gubas” group would come to the family house on Christmas Eve, January 6, I would run and hide because I was extremely afraid of Staryj. He was the oldest and wisest Guba, but sometimes, he scared the children. See, the funny thing is that Staryj was my cousin, but even knowing that didn’t help. I was brought up being scared by Staryj.  He wasn’t mean or anything, that’s just how it was. Before I go any further, I should clarify a few more things. For starters, the Gubas perform a reenactment of the story of the shepherds’ first encounter with the newborn Christ Child. When I say “the family house”, I really mean the house where my grandfather, Andrew Dudish, grew up in St. Clair, PA. He had lived in the house since 1912 and grew up there with all his brothers and sisters. Even though someone in the family still lived there, the house was more of a communal house for the whole family when it was Christmas time. Some family members passed away, some couldn’t make it because of other commitments, some had children, and some had married. Every year the number of family members, who came to holy supper, changed but it would range from the low-twenties to the mid-sixties. Because of the numerous people, mostly family, I considered everyone in the house to be my cousin.
Going with the Gubas is a family tradition. Almost every male in my family, at some point, was part of the Gubas, going all the way back to my grandfather in the 1920s (which makes this a 100 year old tradition in St. Michael the Archangel Orthodox Church, St. Clair, PA, and in our family.) I started off being what they called an “angel.” This is the person who carries the church that they use. The church is symbolic of Jesus and inside of it is a manger scene. The church is made of wood and weighs about 40 pounds. I would hear stories of how the church used to be concrete and weigh a lot more. Throughout the years I would slowly gain a little more responsibility. The shepherds are the ones who actually recite the pageant lines. Last, but not least to speak, is Staryj. All the Gubas or shepherds wear white robes with ribbons on them, tall cylinder crowns (made by my Mom’s Uncle Fred Sponenburg) on their heads and some carry staffs. Staryj wears an old white beard, a fur coat, and hat. He has a menacing look when you’re a young child if he’s trying to scare you. His staff is hung with big jingle bells, so when he bangs it on the floor, it makes a lot of noise. 

The first year I went out with the Gubas was definitely a different experience than what I expected. I thought it was just a group of guys who went house to house doing their little play and then hanging out for a little to talk to the people they knew. While it was this, there was much more to it. I assumed every house that they went to was like mine. At the family house, we had a large group of people with tons of food and the Gubas would stay for a while. What I didn’t know was that some houses only had a few people in them and at others only one person was there to hear our play. This was definitely a shock to me. One of the first things I remember is going into a house and a lady was on her deathbed. For someone who was only 15 at the time, this was hard to comprehend. It wasn’t until the next year when we walked past her house and didn’t go in, that I realized that she had passed. I talked with my family and they explained to me how important it was for the Gubas to come and do the play for them. The play only lasted a few minutes and only had a couple of songs, but this short, roughly five-minute play made the whole year for some of the people who would welcome us into their homes. 
Stephen Laychock as Guba
Over the years, some of the stops would change. Some people would move to a different house or move away. New stops were added if people changed houses or new people wanted us to come. On Christmas Eve, we usually went to about 12 to 17 houses. To me this seemed like a lot, but they would tell me that sometimes they had so many houses to go to that they would need two groups of Gubas. We would start off from the church at around 6:30 PM and for the rest of the night we would walk around going to each house and performing. We would finish up around midnight. 

On Christmas Eve my relatives would go the family house to eat the traditional Holy Supper (fish, pirohy, mushroom gravy, potatoes, prunes, beans, mushroom halupkis). Dinner would start and it was always children and the people going out with the Gubas who ate at the first table setting. This was because the Gubas needed to be fed in time to head out for the first day of going house to house. The second day, Christmas, was much more intense. On Christmas day we would go to about 20 to 25 houses. We would start around 1:00 in the afternoon and not finish until about midnight. 

The pageant begins when one of the shepherds walks into the house and starts by saying “Christos Razdajetsja”, to which the owner of the house says “Slavite Jeho”. In English this means “Christ is Born” and “Glorify Him”. The lead shepherd begins by saying to everyone in the house “Good people, I’m sorry to enter your home in such a rush. I am not alone, for I bring my brothers with me”. At this point everyone else walks into the house, except for the angel and maybe one or two other people. The angel is holding the church outside. The Guba and shepherds go into a conversation about who they are and from where they came. They also explain why they are there. A short song is sung at this point and the church is brought in and placed on a table or chair. Each shepherd bows down and prays to the baby Jesus inside the church. Usually during this time, young children will go up to the Guba and put change or a few dollars into a can that the Guba carries. This money goes to the church. The last person to kneel is Staryj. When he kneels down, the shepherds call him “stoddy” and he pretends, though not always pretends, to be an old man as he stands up. After this is done another song is sung. A shepherd thanks the people for allowing the Gubas into their home and then the final song is sung Mno haja ‘lit). For most of the time that I’ve been going out, this play is performed in part Rusyn and part English. In previous years, they would recite everything in Rusyn. Once the play is over, most people will welcome us into their homes for food and drink and give a donation for St. Michael’s Church. 

The type of food on the first day is different from the second day’s. Abiding by the tradition of not eating meat on Christmas Eve, most of the food is just desserts and drinks. A lot of the food we are offered are cookies, pies, or other meat-less snacks. Some people have other types of food like mushroom holubki, but they aren’t nearly as good as the real thing. Sometimes if there’s a large number of people in the house, we will stay for a while, but if it just a small number of people we might not stay as long. No matter what though, the Gubas are NEVER on time. People always want to know when we are coming to their house, but the only true way to know is when we actually arrive. On the first day, we walk from house to house because we are always in the town of St. Clair, PA. The second day is by far the best. For starters, there is meat halupki along with boilo (a mixture of whiskey fruit juices, honey, spices etc.), which are the staples at every house. Some years I’ll try to keep count of how many halupki I eat over the course of the day. Some houses we go to serve us full meals that they had left over from their dinners and some houses just offer us some drinks. This is a very long day so usually we schedule larger houses apart so we can actually eat around normal meal times. Because this day is longer and we travel to different towns, we have a van that we drive around to each house. This van has officially or unofficially, depending on to whom you talk, been named the Guba-Mobile. 
Almost every house we go to has boilo. To some people making boilo is an art form. All year long they think of different things they can do to tweak their recipe to make it better than the last year. Each person wants you to try their recipe and compare it to their neighbors’ or friends’ recipe from across town. Going around with the Gubas is a cultural experience. Seeing the Gubas is something so different that no one can ever understand unless they experience seeing the play themselves. When we are walking around, plenty of people have thought we were the KKK or saying that it’s too late for Halloween. I’ve tried to explain it to my friends, but it’s hard for them to understand what it is. The most important things I’ve obtained from the experience are religion, family, and friends. Religion and family have everything to do with it. The family tradition of being a Guba, my “cousins” going around as the Gubas with me, and all the people I see at the houses all make it a great time. Every year there are people whom we haven’t seen in a long time; some people haven’t seen each other for decades. The short time that we all spend togetheris an experience that not everyone is lucky enough to have. I’ll always remember singing the songs with my family and seeing the smiles on the faces of the people who welcome us into their homes. I hope I can make it back home next year. There is nothing else like it. 

Garrett Gelting is from Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania. The family house that is mentioned in the article is in Saint Clair, Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Penn State University, and even though he hasn’t lived at home for a few years, he still manages to make it back to Saint Clair every year for “Russian Christmas”. He has been going with the Gubas since he was a teenager, so this will be almost a decade of going out.

Monday, March 10, 2014

UNSUNG HERO - RICH LAYCHOCK

Rich Laychock

While the C-RS has several highly visible leaders, there are a number of members whose invaluable contributions are made from behind the scenes.   Since 2000, Rich Laychock has been one of these members.

Shortly after joining the society, Rich became Membership Secretary.  He created a database of members.  He installed computers at the Cultural Center and instituted networking, dragging us into the 21st Century.  

Rich with his wife Michelle
Rich gave us the ability to conduct our meetings via teleconferencing.  This was not, as skeptics might suspect, just because he had to drive the 8-hour round- trip from Harrisburg to attend those meetings.  Or
because in those days board meetings would last for 4-5 hours.  He did it because he has engineering in his blood.  Rich is a hands-on leader.

As Chief Information Officer, naturally his improvements facilitated communications between the chapters and the National.  For the first time the chapters are able to distribute news of their events to the whole membership.

As Chief Financial Officer he has streamlined our bookkeeping and brought it up to date.  Our records and, consequently, our activities have a new transparency.

Currently Rich is also Chairman of the Cultural Center.  In 2013 he installed new windows in the basement.  He then made our much-discussed handicap ramp a reality.  Presently he is supervising creation of a handicapped restroom.  Its completion will permit us once again to host events.

Front left to right:  Hannah, Ricky, Kaylee
Back left to right:  Andre, Emilie, and Bohdana
A two-time graduate of Penn State, Rich holds a bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering and a master’s in Finance.  As we have seen, his talents in these fields have served the C-RS well.  Taking a lesson from his dad, Rich has the ability to speak with anyone.  He is able to maintain good relations with our members despite the intensity with which some issues are debated.

Rich and his wife Michelle are the proud parents of five, plus a Ukrainian student, Bohdana, who is a cousin’s daughter.  Born in Pottsville, PA, Rich discovered that he is 100% Rusyn.  This took an epiphany.  

Rich's Dad John Laychock 
Though his mother was Byzantine Catholic, his father’s church was founded by Lemkos, eventually being absorbed into the Ukrainian Catholic Church.  This was even though, as his grandmother used to say, there was only one Ukrainian family belonging to their church.  They followed Rusyn customs, but thought they were Ukrainian.

Rich was in his 30s when he was given a copy of the very first printing of The New Rusyn Times.  He contacted Rich Custer, then went on the second C-RS Heritage Tour.  After such total immersion it became clear to Rich that he has been, is, and will be a Rusyn.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

MEET THE FACULTY AT THE RUSYN SUMMER STUDY IN SLOVAKIA

A typical morning at the Studium begins with breakfast offered from 7:30 in the cafeteria across from the dorm. Participants then go off to morning class which begins at 9. In weeks one and two, the first class session from Monday through Friday will be the history lectures offered by Professor Paul Robert Magocsi in English and by Valerii Padiak in Rusyn. In week three, the first class session each day will be the folklore lectures offered by Professor Patricia Krafcik in English and Professor Emeritus Mykola Mushynka in Rusyn. After lunch throughout the three weeks, beginning Rusyn-language students will have class with Marek Gaj and Patricia Krafcik, and intermediate and advanced students will meet for language study with Dr. Kveta Koporova. Instructors at the Studium are all devoted to working closely with you in broadening and deepening your understanding of Rusyn language, history, and culture. 


 Paul Robert Magocsi and Mykola Mušynka.    

Professor Magocsi is the world’s leading expert on Carpatho-Rusyn history. He is the holder of the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto where he has created the most complete library of Carpatho-Rusyn-related scholarship and other materials in the world—a literal treasure-trove for scholars. He is a widely recognized and respected researcher, writer, and teacher, enormously energetic, sharp in terms of his critical thinking. When attending Professor Magocsi’s lectures, be ready to take voluminous notes from the start! His lectures will introduce you to the history of Carpatho-Rusyns from their beginnings to the present day. His style is to present his lecture and then to set aside 30-45 minutes for questions and answers. This lets him cover efficiently what he wants to convey, and then he is open to whatever questions might have arisen during the course of the lecture. Those Q&A sessions, by the way, are as exciting and informative as the lectures. You will definitely acquire a keen understanding of where our people came from and what forces shaped them through the centuries, and you’ll be able to share your new and tremendous body of knowledge with your family and community. 

Valerii Padiak and Patricia Krafcik
Valerii Padiak is a bright and enthusiastic scholar from Uzhhorod, Transcarpathia—just over the border from Slovakia in Ukraine. Like Professor Magocsi, he has been teaching at the Studium since its founding in 2009. He has also been teaching at the Institute of Rusyn Language and Culture at the University of Prešov. Padiak is steeped in the history and culture of Carpatho-Rusyns originating in Transcarpathia. He is a walking encyclopedia! Among other things, he is a publisher of books on Carpatho-Rusyns, a calling in which he has been involved for many years. He has worked hard developing educational opportunities for Rusyn kids in Transcarpathia, as well, and he has helped Studium participants in the past three years get in contact with their Rusyn roots in Transcarpathia. Padiak strongly encourages the American participants in the Studium to practice their Rusyn, and in his warm and animated way he is happy to encourage even simple conversations over meals in the cafeteria. 

Dr. Kveta Koporova teaches the intermediate/advanced Rusyn-language class. A serious scholar of language in her own right, she is the first doctoral candidate at the University of Prešov to produce a dissertation about the Rusyn language in the Rusyn language. Why is this important? Because in using the Rusyn language to express highly technical and sophisticated ideas, she has demonstrated that the language is indeed capable of vast and varied expression. In her language class, she works with participants who already speak Rusyn, usually having acquired their language in the home environment, and also with those who have had experience with other East Slavic languages such as Russian and Ukrainian. Koporova is a warm and hard-working scholar and instructor. She is, by the way, studying English on her own and will be happy to try a bit of English with you, I’m sure, next summer. 

Marek Gaj is a schoolteacher steeped in his Rusyn language and culture. For twelve years he has taught children Rusyn in a school in Medzilaborce. His experience will serve him well as he helps guide beginners in the basics of the Rusyn language. Like other teachers of Slavic languages, Marek is aware that such complex Slavic languages as Rusyn cannot be taught in three weeks, but he will offer an enjoyable introduction to the language through the learning of the alphabet, some basic grammar, simple phrases and sentences, and songs. 

Mykola Mushynka, a professor emeritus at Prešov University will offer folklore lectures in Rusyn. He is a truly unique personality who lived through the difficult era of Communist Czechoslovakia and suffered personal and professional setbacks during those years. Hailing from the village of Kurov in the Prešov Region, he himself grew up completely immersed in and actively practicing all the folklore traditions about which he has written and taught. He speaks Ukrainian and Russian perfectly, as well, but not English. I know, however, that he would be happy to meet the American participants and to talk with you—and there are usually folks who can help with interpretation on the spot. Professor Mushynka is in many ways larger than life. His warmth is palpable and his twinkling blue eyes match his sense of humor. He will be our guide when we attend an authentic Rusyn wedding in his native village of Kurov. He himself has participated as the starosta (best man/leader of the wedding traditions) in several such weddings, and he knows these traditions inside and out. This event is not to be missed. 

Anna Plishkova
Dr. Anna Plishkova is the organizer of the Studium and the head of the Institute of Rusyn Language and Culture at the University of Prešov. Her calm and collected personality belies the very dedicated hard worker within—the one whose strong and persistent efforts helped lead to the establishment of the Institute. She will open and close the Studium session and will be working behind the scenes to insure that all runs smoothly. She is also the liaison between the Studium and the university administration, an important role in which she serves to garner strategic support for the Institute and the Studium. Dr. Plishkova also completed her dissertation a few years ago on the Rusyn language written in Rusyn and defended the dissertation in Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital. She has written widely on the language, including a book available from the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center translated into English and entitled Language and National Identity: Rusyns South of the Carpathians (East European Monographs, Columbia University Press, 2009). Along with one of Professor Magocsi’s many books, The People From Nowhere, Professor Plishkova’s book is well worth reading if you are interested in Carpatho-Rusyn history and culture. 

Finally, in week three of this summer’s Studium, I (Pat Krafcik) will give the afternoon lectures on selected topics in Carpatho-Rusyn folklore in English. I am an Associate Professor of Russian Language and Literature at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. I participated with Professor Magocsi in founding the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center in 1978 and was the editor for most of the years of our publication of the Carpatho-Rusyn American Newsletter (1978-98). I have nurtured a passion for Slavic folklore for some decades now and offered lectures in selected topics in Rusyn folklore at the past three sessions of the Studium. My lectures are more like talks in which I invite participation from the students so that our sessions resemble a discussion over coffee—they are both serious and enjoyable, and full of information at the same time. Participant contributions enrich what I have to contribute. The learning works both ways, and I appreciate this. I will also be assisting Marek Gaj in his teaching of beginning Rusyn. For the first two weeks, while Marek is still finishing his academic year in Medzilaborce with his own pupils, I will work with the beginners during the first hour of class, practicing what Marek has taught us. During the second hour, Marek will arrive to introduce new material. In week three, he will teach the full class time, but I will be there to help with translating questions you might have for him. 

There are others connected with the work of the Institute of Rusyn Language and Culture and who will be present at the opening and closing ceremonies. Among them, Timea Veres, who speaks excellent English, will be a helpful liaison between participants and the Institute people. She is a fine historian in her own right and is a lovely individual who is willing to go the extra mile to help participants feel at home. You may also meet along the way others members of the staff of the Institute for Rusyn Language and Culture.  

We all hope to see you at the Studium this summer for three weeks of significant learning and unforgettable experiences. The deadline (somewhat flexible) for applying is March 1, 2014, and applications and more information are available at the Carpatho-Rusyn Society website. Please note that the arrival for participants from abroad is Saturday, June 14. Already on Sunday, June 15, we have our first excursion—a visit to the Svidník Open Air Museum and the Svidník Rusyn Folk Festival which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have, at patkrafcik@gmail.com.  


Written by Pat Krafcik